Saturday, December 1, 2012

Kyudo::Japanese Archery in Mexico City

Kyudo Kai form - fully drawn bow.

Master of Kyudo,  Sensei  Ali Zolfagharian teaches  lessons on kyudo -- Japanese archery -- in Mexico City.  Kyudo is radically different than archery I'd practiced in high school.  Our group of dedicated archers would meet on Sunday mornings at the UNAM campo de tiro con arco.

Kyudokai Mexico sponsored the classes.
Kyudo involves a very ceremonial series of movements which you practice for months before drawing the bow back.  Each movement is part of a set form and follows an exact sequence of foot and body placement through an entry processional to the archer's position.  After you practice the form and understand the body posture, you can practice drawing the bow which was somewhere around eight feet long.  

One Arrow, One Life -- the essential text on Kyudo.
You can study kyudo for years and will always be a beginner.  It's one of those disciplines, like tai-chi or yoga that becomes part of your life and calms the mind.

Skill depends on a clear memory and the ability to move in harmony with others during the entry and exit processionals.  With careful practice, the candidate advances.  

Upper body muscles may need development to engage in the demands of kyudo.  Ali Zolfagharian, the instructor,  provided a length of elastic stretch rope so I could practice the full bow opening movement.   This You Tube video displays the kyudo form.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Organic Materials for Chinese TraditionalMedicine.

Toronto's Chinese Pharmacy

When you’re looking for pulverised dragon bone,
yak horn or aged ginseng, the local drug store just won’t do. 
The pharmacy to visit is in Toronto, Canada.  
It may be farther than the local mall, but compared
to jetting across the Pacific, Toronto is just around the corner.

Dundas Street is a busy east-west artery through
Toronto's Chinatown, a vigorous commercial segment
in a dynamic city. The Chinese drugstore I visit is 
South China Herbs Market, near the intersection
of Dundas and Spadina, in a neighborhood
teeming with chic cafes, galleries, clothing outlets, ethnic restaurants
and international food markets. There are other
Oriental pharmacies close by, and almost any 
city in the U.S. and Canada with a large Chinese population will have reliable stores selling
Oriental medical supplies.  But I like the continuity of
visiting the same herbal emporium for three decades.

Inside the brightly-lit ground level store,
colorful boxes covered with Chinese characters 
are stuffed in floor to ceiling shelves. Teas,
herbal compounds, and beauty treatments share space
with aphrodisiacs and hair restoratives.  As in any
drug store, the products promise to make you smell,
look and feel better.  

Another customer with gray hair smoothed
back from her unwrinkled brow smiles at me
and taps the jar of Lion Balm on the counter.  It's a Korean version of
Singapore’s famous Tiger Balm, an aromatic salve.
The sales clerk tells me the old lady
is commenting on my choice of Lion Balm, “such a
wonderful product.”  I smile politely and also buy
one of the little plastic jars of the no-name brand the woman is testing, 
just in case the old lady was really saying, 
“only foreign devils are so dumb they buy Lion Balm."

I discovered South China Herbs during the 1970s. At
the time I suffered from sciatica, a condition that flared after 
a violent car accident.  The nerve that runs from hip to heel at the back of
the leg roared with inflammation. After an orthopedic surgeon prescribed industrial grade Motrin that upset my stomach, I tried acupuncture, shiatsu massage, exercises and aspirin, but the shooting nerve pain persisted. 

While in Toronto, I noticed the Chinese
pharmacy and explained my chronic problem to the
counter clerk.  She brought ginseng tea and led me
to the back of the shop. Seated in the closet-size
consulting room, I described my symptoms while an
elderly Fu-Man-Chu look-alike stared at me, felt my pulse,
examined my eyelids and skin temperature.  He chattered questions
while the counter clerk translated. 

The old pharmacist scribbled columns
of characters on a pad of paper. 
Just so you know prescriptions in Chinese characters are just as illegible as those written by English speaking healers.

Choosing from many packages of herbs, organic
powders, insect corpses, bark, dried blossoms,
leaves and sea urchins, the pharmacist mixed
four doses of my treatment. The translator explained how
to prepare the potions and cautioned me to drink them
all, even if they tasted bad.  They wrapped the piles of
dried stuff in white paper and heat-sealed plastic.

I boiled, strained and drank the vile-tasting black potion as directed.
To my surprise – I wasn’t a believer yet -- the sciatica pain waned.  On
the rare occasions it flared up, I used topical
remedies such as medicinal plasters that I found at South China Herbs.  Ever since, I’ve been a return customer and share the remedies with my friends who shun invasive western medicine.

The medicinal plaster is a wide sticky tape
impregnated with healing lotion used for lower back
pain, joint aches, nerve pain and rheumatism. The
instructions include line drawings of people applying 
squares of plaster to knees, lower back, shoulders and ankles. 
The translation claims the plaster relieves complaints
from poor circulation to slipped disc, 
but you probably want to take that slipped disc for high-tech diagnosis.

The main attraction at South China Herbs are the shelves
crammed with mysterious organic elements wrapped
in paper or cloth, stored in jars and boxes. 
Take away the florescent lights and you could be in
a medieval alchemist's den. In fact, Chinese herbal
medicinals date back at least 3,000 years in 
written records and earlier in the oral tradition.
The compounds are used by about a fifth of the
world's population.

The custom-mixed herbal remedies are expensive and 
to be reasonably effective, the potions should be consumed for several days.
Treatments work best on conditions such as
insomnia, fatigue, circulatory disorders, muscle
pain, skin ailments, joint aches, nerve
inflammation, discharges and swellings. While the
Chinese drugstore is not the place to look for
cures for AIDS or cancer, their products are
effective on general low-grade complaints brought
on by lifestyle or environmental exposures. 

South China Herbs Market, 493 Dundas St. W.
Toronto, Ontario Canada M5T 1H1, 416-596-8527. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Rex Hotel, Ho Chi Minh City

Rex Hotel, HCMC © L Peat O'Neil

The Rex, in downtown Saigon -- now Ho Chi Minh City -- was the hang out spot for newspaper correspondents, military "advisors" and Quiet Americans during the Vietnam War.  

Built in 1927 as a car dealership and showroom during the French colonial era, the Rex Hotel gained a few floors and became a hotel just in time for the arrival of U.S. Army soldiers and specialists in 1961.  During the war, journalists gathered to wash down their cynicism as unrealistic progress reports were delivered by military officials to the press.

After that war ended in 1975, the city tourism bureau took over the hotel.  By the mid-1980s, tourists and business entrepreneurs looking for trade opportunities were staying there. The rooftop restaurant-bar offers terrific views, drinks with paper parasols and an atmosphere not available elsewhere.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Medical Geography

2012 Outbreaks of hantavirus in USA.
Medical Geography

Several decades ago, when I worked as budget officer and research assistant in the University of Toronto Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine (now part of the U of T Dalla Lana School of Public Health),  the term Medical Geography circulated in scientific discussion, but not the general press.  Medical cartography --  mapping disease  -- dates back at least a couple of centuries.  Modern analysis of the relationship of geography to climate change and the distribution of disease is now a sub-specialty of geography.

Quarantine area for ebola infected patients. 
Medical Geography goes beyond a look at annual flu epidemics that typically originate in South East Asia or the endemic diseases of Africa.  The discipline of Medical Geography includes study of climate, weather, seismic events and other disasters, forced and voluntary migration as it relates to the trajectory and movement of disease.  

Disease tracking and analysis in recent decades - for the outbreaks of  Hantavirus, Ebola, West Nile virus, Avian Flu and SARS, among others -- reveals that climate change does impact how diseases move because of changing habitat patterns for the carriers of these potentially deadly pathogens. Mass migration and refugee movements and tourism also expand the range of human vectors. 

Deer mouse - carrier of Hantavirus.

Can indigenous Malaria really be returning to Italy?  Tropical zone insects are moving to Italy ... a bad air indeed.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Diego Rivera and His Idols

Museo Anahuacalli, Mexico City
A Home For My Idols

The second dream, one of thirty-five years’ standing, was renewed by the destruction wreaked everywhere by the war.  It was to build a home for my anthropological collection, which I had started to assemble on my first return to Mexico in 1910.

So while the bombs menaced our very lives and made painting seem a thing of insignificance, Frida and I started a strange kind of ranch.  Here we planned to raise our own food staples, milk, honey, and vegetables, while we prepared to build our museum.  In the first few weeks, we erected a stable for our animals.   [Really? Can you see Frida or Diego actually wielding hammers themselves? Perhaps they hired workers, ummmm?]  

The side we chose was near Coyoacán, right on top of a lava bed.  Cactus sprang up profusely from the crevices in the stones.  Nature had landscaped the area as if for one purpose, and I decided that our house should be in harmony with her work.  Accordingly, we cut our stone from the basalt indigenous to the region.  The structure would rise from the earth like an extension of its natural surface.

I designed the building in a composite of Aztec, Mayan, and “Rivera Traditional” styles.  The squarely built exterior resembles an ancient Mexican pyramid of the pre-Cortes period.

Mask of Thaloc ©
The main floor is the museum where my sculptures of this period are displayed.  The rooms here wind and open into each other like those of a labyrinth.  Walled in unfaced stone, they are gray and dank.  On the ceilings are white stone mosaics, mainly abstract in form.  One of the mosaics, however, is of the rain god, Tlaloc, whose face I represented as a formation of two wriggling snakes.  

The upper section is still to be completed.  I intended it as my studio, where I could create my own sculptures to adorn the outside walls.  But lack of time and money have so far prevented me from carrying out this part of my plan.

Surmounting all is a tower representing the god of air and open on all sides to the raw, cool drafts of mountain air.  The cool and stony aspect of the place gives one the impression of being in an underground temple.

During the war, this building was “home” for Frida and me.  After the war, it was converted exclusively into a home for my idols.  Guided by Dr. Alfonso Caso, Mexico’s leading anthropologist, I passed many wonderful hours placing my statues in chronological order in the different rooms of the building.  Dr. Caso and his associates were enthusiastic about my collection, declaring that while my dating of some pieces might be in error, I had shown an uncanny instinct for what was authentic and important.  They rated the collection among the best in the world.

This venture, however, has almost impoverished me.  The cost of maintaining the museum has been about $125 a week.  With this outlay added to the $300 a month I gave Frida for household expenses for our home in Coyoacán and the forty dollars a month I paid for my daughter Ruth’s college tuition, I was left with hardly enough change to buy the daily newspaper.

People are under the impression that I am wealthy because I have sometimes paid as much as $250 for a single idol.  But when I have made such a purchase, I have often, as a result, had to scrimp on necessities.  Frida used to scold me sometimes for not keeping enough money to buy such prosaic things as underwear.  But my idols have more than compensated me for their expense.  Whenever I feel disgusted with some painting I have done, I have only to look at them and suddenly I feel good again.

By now, I have already spent more than fifty thousand dollars on the museum and still it is not complete.  Most visitors are astonished to hear this low figure.  However, I did so much myself:  the architectural designs, the engineering, and even the overseeing of the actual work, thus cutting the cost of construction considerably.

Since beginning the project, I have put into it literally every penny I have earned above modest living expenses.  Work on the museum halted during Frida’s illnesses, when the heavy medical and hospital bills virtually bankrupted me.  However, when Frida was well and earning money from her own paintings, she would refuse to accept any money from me, and I would go on idol-buying sprees.  All in all I have spent about one hundred thousand dollars on my collection – apart from the building itself.

I calculate that another forty thousand dollars will be required to complete the building.  My plan is to give the museum to the state, provided it appropriates the money needed to finish it.  My only other stipulation will be that I be allowed to supervise the final construction.  If I cannot arrange a mutually satisfactory agreement with the authorities, I shall dynamite the building with my own hands rather than have it put to some stupid use at odds with the purpose for which I designed it. (p. 250-252)

Rivera, Diego, with Gladys March. (1960). My Art, My Life. An autobiography. New York: The Citadel Press, pp 250-252.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Walk in West By God Virginia :: Dolly Sods

Dolly Sods

After buying topographic maps for the Dolly Sods region at the visitor's center near Seneca Rocks, we returned to hike the sods. Up front, you have to know that Dolly Sods has nothing to do with Dolly Parton. The name relates to the Dahles family, local homesteaders.  The acidic soil, elevation and scrub flora creates a micro eco-system that suits blueberry and cranberry bushes that carpet the plains. So we hunkered down and stuffed ourselves with blueberries. At first they were difficult to see, but as we nosed past the myopia frontier, we filled handfulls of flavorful berries.

Dolly Sods Wilderness.  ©

Light green or grey slabs of reindeer moss grow beneath the blueberries on either side of the path.1 Though posters warning about rattlers and copperheads adorn every bulletin board in the Sods, the only snake I saw was a tender green garden snake startled by the screech I involuntarily emitted.

As we passed through Petersburg on the way home, a parade brought traffic to a standstill for two hours. The Tri-County Fair was opening that evening and the whole town was out to cheer a procession of big-rig trucks, vintage cars and floats advertising local businesses and churches. Blending in with the crowd and watching the passing scene was the only sensible option. Kids scrambled for penny candy tossed by drivers in the parade. Young cowboys pranced up and down Virginia Ave. threading their horses through the motor vehicles.

The highlight was a horse-drawn 19th century funeral casson which we had noticed at Shaffer Funeral Home in Romney, WV earlier in the day.  My travel companion helped lift the axel so Mr. Shaffer could grease it.

As we watched the festivities, a man next to us propped against the stone wall -- our impromtu viewing stand -- urged his daughter to fill her sack with candy and leaned over to ask, "So, did you folks come down from the city just to see this parade?"  Heck, we thought we looked like locals.

Resource: The North Fork Mountain Inn offers silence, gracious mountaintop lodging and sweeping views of the surrounding forests.

See: High Beam for the full article.  The author receives no revenue.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Monticello :: Thomas Jefferson's Masterwork

Charlottesville’s favorite son, Thomas Jefferson, left more than a theoretical mark on the nation and the world.  The ambitious abstractions he wrote in the  Declaration of Independence remain the international benchmark for democratic standards of government and civil liberty.

Jefferson also championed the western explorations of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark that began in 1803.  

Jefferson's Library at Monticello ©
Jefferson's ideas about individual liberty and intellectual and religious freedom will likely be debated and interpreted through the channels of justice and government  for centuries to come.  He wrote the statute of religious liberty for Virginia and founded the University of Virginia.  The inscription he wrote for his grave at Monticello doesn’t mention it, but Jefferson also served the nation as Ambassador, Vice-President, President and counselor to Presidents.   His library formed the nucleus of the Library of Congress.

The third President of the United States described himself as a planter and architect, wrote copious notes on his agricultural experiments collected in the “Garden Book.”  The best place to see the man behind the public servant is at Charlottesville and in particular, the home Jefferson designed and built, Monticello.  

Jefferson’s practical and tangible achievements  - the innovative architectural designs,  farming techniques and educatioleal plans - endure and inspire at Charlottesville, a peaceful town east of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park,  about 70 miles west of Richmond, the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia 

Watercolor of Monticello in 1827. ©
Named for King George III’s consort Charlotte Sophia, the town was settled in the 1730’s as a tobacco trading center.  Despite Jefferson’s then radical theories of democratic government, town sympathies must have tended to the Royalist position and British troops were billeted at Charlottesville during the Revolutionary War.

Jefferson’s beloved Monticello, built on land inherited from his father,  demonstrates his dedication to architectural symmetry.   Jefferson design for the house and  many of its furnishings focus on efficiency - beds are built into walls, placement of windows and doors takes advantage of  natural light and prevailing breezes. Hung in the entry hall are artifacts from the western explorations of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark  The bookshelves hold beautifully bound  editions that replicate Jefferson’s library. His own books were sold to the U.S. government to pay mounting personal debts and formed the nucleus of the Library of Congress. 
Monticello  ©
A tour of the plantation is instructive for understanding the need for self-sufficiency and the importance of contributions by the slaves.  Though Jefferson wrote that he detested the institution of slavery, he remained a slaveholder.  However he improved conditions of his own slaves beyond the standards then accepted in Virginia.  Activity on the plantation  centered in the dependencies along Mulberry Row  where slaves and indentured servants lived and worked in the laundry, dairy, weaving house, carpentry and nail making shops and toiled at all the other crafts necessary to keep the plantation self-sufficient.   Jefferson’s extensive vegetable garden and orchards have been magnificently restored over the past fifteen years.